Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Chocolate Pecan Meringues with Easy Berry Sauce

Two words of advice - Valentine's Day. It's next Tuesday!  If you are looking for an easy but impressive dessert to serve your sweetheart, this is it. 

Only a few simple ingredients are needed to create these beautiful, swirled puffs of chocolate and cocoa.  The recipe calls for espresso powder which is easy to find at the store, but if you'd like to try making your own, I've included directions below.

The cool and dry indoor humidity of winter is the best time to make meringues. Shatteringly crisp on the outside but chewy and decadent on the inside, these are sure to impress.

Alone, these cookies are delightful, but if you wish, you can make a simple frozen berry sauce in less than 30 minutes.  Topped with a scoop of fine vanilla ice cream and berry sauce, you can turn the meringues into a spectacular dessert.  Be sure to use a very sharp serrated knife to cut the tops off of the meringues or they could shatter and break.  If you prefer, you can use the back of a spoon and make a shallow indentation in the top of the meringues before you bake them (think of the pre-made sponge shortcake indentation).  Or, simply fill an ice cream dish with ice cream and berry sauce and serve the meringue cookies on the side!

Speaking of hearts and love, I have been working on creating some special baby shower games using art that I purchased on Etsy from some very talented artists.  Good friends are expecting their first grandchild in June. Don't you love this baby fox with the heart on its chest?

Whatever your plan for Valentine's Day, whether it's spending time with your special loved one or by yourself watching a good movie with a bowl of meringue cookies, I wish you a very happy day!

Chocolate Pecan Meringue Cookies

Printable Recipe

3 large room temperature egg whites*
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar*
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped* (optional)
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons espresso powder
Pinch of salt

*Tips: Place whole eggs in a dish of warm water to get them to room temperature more quickly. If you have a coffee/spice grinder or a food processor you can make your own superfine sugar by pulsing several times. Roast pecans in a 350F oven for about 7 minutes. Allow to cool, then chop finely.

Preheat oven to 225F and line a 18 x 13 inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mat.

Place egg whites into a medium bowl and add the cream of tartar. With a hand mixer, beat the egg whites at low speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Turn the the speed up to medium and add the sugar while beating, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. This will take about 1 minute.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the meringue and fold in gently with a spatula to incorporate. Only fold a few times, you want the the meringue to look marbled.

Spoon eight 1/2-cup mounds of meringue onto the prepared baking sheet. Using the back 
of a spoon, gently swirl the meringues into approximately 3 inch rounds, making a peak at the top. If desired, you can use the spoon to make an indentation in the top of the meringues if you wish to use them as a base for ice cream and berry sauce.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the meringues are firm on the outside but still chewy in the 
center. Cool completely.

Meringues can be stored in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment paper, for about a week.

Adapted from: Chocolate Chip Espresso Meringues from Food and Wine

Simple Frozen Berry Sauce

Printable Recipe

2 cups mixed frozen berries (organic preferred) such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries
1/4 cup sugar or honey
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Place berries in a small saucepan. Over low heat, allow the berries to thaw and soften until they release their juices. Add the sugar or honey and turn the heat to medium low and simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust sweetness, if necessary.

Remove from heat and mash berries with a large fork or pastry blender. Add the fresh lemon juice and allow to cool.

Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use. May be reheated gently in the microwave for about 30 seconds when ready to serve.

How to Make Your Own Espresso Powder

This makes about 1-1/2 tablespoons of espresso powder.

If you have an espresso maker at home, after brewing a double shot, save the grounds or ask your barista to give you the grounds after you order your next espresso drink at the coffee shop.

Spread the grounds on a small baking sheet and spread them out to dry.

Preheat the oven to 300F and place the baking sheet in the oven and allow the grounds to toast for 30 minutes.

Allow the grounds to cool and pulse them in a coffee/spice grinder until finely ground.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Cream Scones with Lemon and Dried Fruit~

How do you cozy up a dark and dreary winter day? Since the ice storm rolled through, we have had rain, fog and gloomy days...dark even earlier than than on a sunny day.  We like to light lots of candles (mostly the no-flame, no little burned fingers kind), turn on cheery music and on the weekends, I like to bake!

Early this week, I was craving something sweet but not too sweet. Something that would taste great with a warm cup of tea.  Scones sounded perfect and this was one of the best scone recipes I've tried.  Other recipes I've made have added butter and egg in the dough. This recipe gets enough added fat from using cream rather than milk or buttermilk to moisten the dough.  

First published in Bon Appetit in 1996, these scones are flaky and tender with a luscious lemony flavor from grated lemon zest - not only in the dough but also mixed with sugar and sprinkled on top before baking.

They are indeed perfect with a cup of tea - especially my favorite green tea with lemon.  

I added chopped dried apricots and dried cherries as I had them on hand.  Since my dried cherries were not brand new and soft, I plumped them in a splash of Kirsch liqueur before baking. I think dried blueberries would be delicious in this recipe too!

Even my husband, who is not a fan of dried fruit in bakery, loved these.

And did I mention the sugary, lemon-zest topping? So good!

So bring on the baking and bring on the light - we need it!

Cream Scones with Lemon

Makes 12 Scones

Note: I like to use organic lemons when I need lemon zest to avoid any pesticide residue.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried cherries (plumped in enough Kirsch to cover)
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
2 teaspoons or so of grated lemon peel, divided (from 2 large, organic lemons)
1 cup heavy whipping cream (8 oz container)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

If your dried cherries are no longer soft, plump them in a small cup with enough Kirsch liqueur (Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Amaretto will also work) to cover. Place another cup on top of cherries submerge them. Allow to 'plump' for about 15 minutes or so and then drain. Squeeze dry with paper toweling.

Mix flour, the 1/4 cup of sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Stir in apricots, cherries and 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Add whipping cream and stir just until dough forms. If necessary, add another tablespoon or so of milk if your dough is still too dry but don't get the dough too wet. Kneed dough gently on a lightly floured surface, just until dough holds together. Form the dough into a 10-inch circle, 1/2 inch-thick or so. Cut into 12 wedges with a clean knife dipped in cold water. 

Transfer wedges onto a large baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon lemon peel in small bowl. Brush scones with melted butter and sprinkle with the sugar mixture.

Bake scones in the preheated oven until light golden brown, about 15-25 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly. Serve scones warm or at room temperature. May be made a day ahead and wrapped in foil.

Adapted from Bon Appetit, 1996